Readers, this is my column. Dedicated to those thoughts thunk in the small hours as I toss and turn in my bed, and my train of thought derails, obliterating everything in its path.
Many clever people have spent a lot of time trying to analyse the runaway success of Mail Online, because it's the world's most successful news site – its 100 million monthly readers are more than The New York Times, or even the internet's meth lab, Buzzfeed, manages to snare. It is the holy mystery at the centre of British public life, the transubstantiation of the eucharist for Fleet Street. If I seem in danger of over-intellectualising things here, let's put it simply: How does so much shit turn into so much gold?
Buried deep in the bowels of the site itself is a page that can help us deduce some of the answers. That is [the analytics page](http://http://www.dailymail.co.uk/stats). It will tell you what the most-commented-on articles are (currently "Immigrants? We sent out search parties to get them to come… and made it hard for Britons to get work, says Mandelson"), how many people are reading it in Djibouti today (843, at the time of writing), and which American state is most in love with “Shameless! Amazing pictures that prove the Kardashians shat on John Terry's mistress just to prove they can still feel”.
I imagine these maps are projected onto massive LED screens above the Mail's newsfloor. Every so often, someone rushes through into Paul Dacre's office and shouts: “Sir, sir! 'Serving an ace: Maria Sharapova shows off athletic physique as she strips to a plunging nude bodysuit for racy Esquire shoot' is going nuts in Idaho right now.” And gnomic editing god Dacre nods softly to himself, tells them to insert the word "potatoes" into the copy somehow to up its Idahoan SEO quotient and returns to scrutinising early proofs of up-skirts of minor soap stars through his monocle.
Top of the analytics page is the "Arrow Feel-Good Factor". This is where we learn what the overall balance is, in terms of people voting comments up, versus voting them down, across the entire site. Currently, the balance stands at 1,718,792 million up-votes versus 437,305 down-votes. Therefore, the overall "feelgood factor" in Mail world is well over a million up. You have to wonder what would have to happen to make that axis go negative. Would it mean that the world stands on the brink of nuclear war? Or would it simply mean that Britain has – finally, despite all their many warnings – actually been overrun by foreign hordes?
Beneath that: a series of blocks where all the commenting is further aggregated. The most prolific commenter across the whole site for the past 30 days is someone called Sean from Londonderry. He has done 1,498 comments on 1,248 articles. That's 50 a day. Sean From Londonderry has apparently been a member since 2009. Dating it, I like to think it was the MPs' expenses scandal that first put Sean From Londonderry into the Mail Online commenting A-league. He had some early luck. “Duck moat? Even the ducks of MPs get better treatment than their constituents,” something like that, and soon enough the fleeting fame of getting 3,000 up-votes spurred him on to riding his luck to greater and greater commenting, until he was hopelessly addicted to the feedback, feeling as though his public "needed him".
In the past 24 hours, he's added another 45 comments, racking up 515 up-votes, and only 366 down-votes, the big ol' crowd-pleaser. His comments include one on “Back for more! Tom Cruise agrees to return as super spy Ethan Hunt in fifth instalment of Mission Impossible franchise”. To which he has offered us the simple yet damning verdict: “Cash in!” Changing tack on “'She's got a bad attitude!' Lil' Kim sued by her business manager after he claims her 'diva-like' behaviour cost him millions”, he decides to go back to a debate rehashed endlessly in the late 90s in the pages of Vibe and XXL: “She can thank BIGGY for even having a career!”
Finally, Sean ends his insight barrage with an astonishing bit of invective crowbarred into a piece about Will Smith "cuddling his son" at the premiere of their new film in Taiwan: “If you allowed your 14 year old son to follow his dreams instead of wasting away in some rotten state school social services would take him and you would be arrested! These types lead very different lives to you and I.” It's difficult to know where to begin with this, with its casting of social services as the Waffen SS of the dreaded nanny state, its nod to piss-poor local schools of the all-shall-have-prizes mentality, and its bold accusation that society isn't treating all of us in the same way it treats Will Smith. Yet at the same time, it holds out an unalloyed admiration for celebrities. Yes, they do lead very different lives, Sean suggests. And the likes of you and I might gaze upon them. But we can never truly understand how those lives play out, can we? It seems Sean has sussed the basic paradox of the whole site. No wonder he’s king.
Outside of being the biggest swinging dick in the Mail Online commentariat, I imagine Sean works in some backroom civil service-type role. Maybe vehicle licensing. That he has largely been forgotten by his employers. That he hasn't had a conversation with any of his colleagues in months. He just eats his lunch out of the vending machine, then goes straight back to his desk, to continue onwards with his strict click-through and commentary regime. I guess he probably sees leaving these comments as his "real job" now. Fuck processing licensing payments: all those up-votes are the only validation he needs. He's been sucked into what you might call the gamification of the news world.
At the very bottom of the overall rankings, with a net balance of 12,000-plus down-votes, is a highly persistent troll called “Ed Miliband Rocks”, who states his location as "London and Poland" as he chuckles his wind-ups into the electronic ether, treating every fresh down-vote as an invitation to LOL a little harder. I am 97 percent sure Ed Miliband Rocks is in his second year at a redbrick university, and writes a monthly column "casting a wry eye over campus life" for the student paper.
Finally, there are two bars at the bottom. One is for best-rated individual comments. The other is for the worst-rated. What is the lowest of the low? It is under the article “Shock as 84 schools have NO white British pupils at all… double five years ago”. There, someone called Cal has written: “Why are we blaming the immigrants? It is the White British (like myself) who are moving away and causing this segregation…” Cue 2,195 big red DOWN arrows, an avalanche of hate. Conclusion: Mail Online’s core audience is people ashamed of the White British tendency to run away from immigrants.
And the most up-rated comment of the past seven days? Clocking an astonishing 12,000 up-votes, on an article about how the boss of Abercrombie & Fitch doesn't want fat people shopping at his store, is Mick. Mick wants us to know that “It sounds like Mr. Jeffries hasn't recovered from high school where he was undoubtedly one of the not-cool kids”. By this act of reverse-bullying, Mick seems to have channelled the common thoughts of 12,000 vengeful obese types, who, unhappy with being scorned by Abercrombie, would like to claim that the boss of the company was always uncool, thereby somehow reclaiming power for themselves by tugging him down to their level. This is such a potent window into human psychology, that whoever un-weaves its many paradoxes could probably pre-book the Nobel Prize for Shitstirring. Or maybe they could if they weren’t just going to give it straight to Dacre, anyway.
Illustration by Marta Parszeniew